By macleans.ca - Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 0 Comments
Another way of looking at the week
In sickness and in citizenship
Ottawa is cracking down on the use of fake marriages as a means of gaining Canadian citizenship. New rules require newlyweds with no children to stay in a relationship for two years before foreign spouses get permanent resident status. If they fail to “cohabit in a conjugal relationship” for the 24-month period, they will face deportation. It’s a sensible measure that doesn’t put any undue hardship on legitimate applicants. Fraudsters, however, will now be less inclined to seduce Canadians into sham relationships—faking a happy marriage for two years is no easy feat.
Never too late
A major study of more than one million U.K. women shows that quitting smoking early enough in life can erase most of the fatal side effects. Writing in the journal The Lancet, researchers report that kicking the habit before the age of 40 avoids more than 90 per cent of the excess mortality from smoking and stopping before 30 avoids more than 97 per cent. That’s no reason, of course, for young people to keep smoking: death rates for all smokers are still higher overall. Continue…
By Nicholas Köhler - Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 9:50 AM - 0 Comments
There’s life after the disaster, amid ghost towns, radioactive worms and disaster tourists
Last October, beachcombers from Oregon to Alaska began noticing a startling number of bulbous, buoyant objects, as smooth and symmetrical as the seeds of some strange and massive fruit, washing up on their shores. They were black, orange, white, and, in rare cases, bore a foreign script scrawled onto their hard surfaces. The beachcombers knew these to be ﬁshing buoys, likely of Japanese origin. They had seen similar ﬂotsam before, though never in such numbers; in many of these new cases, the sea was tossing them up onto remote beaches in bunches—two black, three white—like clustering atoms.
The arrivals did not surprise Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired Seattle engineer and oceanographer; he’d been anticipating this. At 69, Ebbesmeyer’s reputation for unusual ﬂotsam savvy stems from an episode 22 years ago, when he followed 80,000 Nike sneakers spilled into the Paciﬁc during a storm, drifting 3,200 km before washing up, in colourful array, on U.S. beaches. That study had allowed him to unknot some hard mysteries about ocean currents; based on those experiences and a series of complex computer simulations, Ebbesmeyer was expecting the Japanese debris, and asked his network of beachcombers to watch for it.
Little by little, he learned of the buoys—23 in all, from 17 locations stretching from Yachats, Ore., to Kodiak, Alaska. Skepticism on the part of some scientists did not dampen Ebbesmeyer’s enthusiasm for a theory shared by his beachcombing friends—that the buoys were at the forefront of a ﬁeld of debris swept into the waters off Japan’s northeast on March 11 by a massive tsunami. Those waves, as high as 10 m, were a once-in-a-millennium event triggered by a nine-magnitude seismic upheaval so powerful it knocked Japan’s main island, Honshu, 2.4 m further east into the Paciﬁc. The raw numbers associated with the humanitarian crisis that followed are by now well-known: 20,000 dead or missing, at least 300,000 displaced by earthquake and ﬂooding, 100,000 more forced from an area almost double the size of Toronto by the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
By Nicholas Köhler - Monday, February 13, 2012 at 10:49 PM - 0 Comments
A lot has changed but the country is still scarred by the earthquake and tsunami
One year after the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan, Maclean’s senior writer Nicholas Kohler is back. He will be visiting communities on Japan’s northeastern coast, talking to survivors and posting on Macleans.ca all week, chronicling the story of a people’s comeback from devastation.
It’s hard to believe how much has changed in 11 months.
My last dispatch from Japan appeared on April 11, exactly a month after an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Japan’s northeastern coast and crippled the Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima.
By Erica Alini - Monday, October 3, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
The yakuza stepped in quickly to provide tsunami relief, and are reaping the benefits
Post-earthquake reconstruction in Japan is providing a much-needed boost to the country’s reeling economy–as well as its crime mobs. Whether it’s about removing tonnes of debris from flattened coastal villages or erecting new homes and office buildings, the yakuza, Japan’s entrenched mafia, is reportedly winning lucrative contracts for all sorts of public projects in the aftermath of the March earthquake and tsunami. The mafioso have even stepped in to clear radioactive rubble near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a task many private ﬁrms have shied away from, according to the Guardian newspaper.
The reason why crime bosses are reaping such profits, many suspect, has much to do with the way the yakuza provided rapid and efficient relief to quake-stricken communities. Hours after the ﬁrst shock waves, unlabelled trucks loaded with “paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, ﬂashlights, drinks” and other essentials arrived in the hard-hit Ibaraki and Fukushima prefectures, according to Jake Adelstein, a Japan-based journalist and a leading expert on the country’s criminal underworld. Unloading the vehicles were men wearing long sleeves and gloves to conceal tattoos and missing fingers, the classic trademarks of yakuza members. The Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-kai, Japan’s second- and third-largest crime families, were at the forefront of a rescue operation that delivered an estimated $500,000 worth of food and first aid supplies, according to Adelstein.
The maﬁa syndicates, whose regular business includes drug trafﬁcking, extortion, gambling and prostitution, were careful not to openly advertise their charitable activities, Japan-watchers noted. The mobsters didn’t want to irritate the police, who have long been trying to dull the aura of mystery and even heroism that often surrounds bosses and their strongmen in the eyes of some Japanese. Yet the yakuza’s silent PR efforts did not go to waste. Few quake victims, including local politicians, failed to notice that crime syndicates reached out faster than Tokyo officials. Now, it seems, Japan’s godfathers are getting their payback.
By Nicholas Köhler - Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:31 AM - 1 Comment
Though still reeling from tragedy, the people of northern Japan remain resilient
On the afternoon of March 25, shortly before the two-week anniversary hour of Japan’s 9-magnitude earthquake, in the fishing town of Otsuchi, Kaoru Kikuchi, 59, catches sight of his cousin, Kouji Abe, 62, in the dirt courtyard of an evacuation shelter at Akahama Elementary School. As the men meet, they grasp each others’ shoulders, embrace, and Kikuchi, who wears light-green work gear, briefly weeps. Because the Japan Self-Defense Forces only recently managed to clear the roads here, this is the first contact that Kikuchi, who lives inland, has made with Abe, a fishing-boat builder with a wild shock of grey hair who wears a sweater and, jewellery-like from his neck, a squid lure. “I love fishing but my boat has been destroyed,” Abe says. “I will mend it.”
That same day, on one of the mountains encircling the coastal town of Onagawa, 100 km south of Otsuchi, soldiers salvage the body of 52-year-old homemaker Henna Kimura. Originally from the South American country of Suriname, Henna arrived in Japan after marrying sailor Satoru Kimura. Her recovery delivers relief. “I feel lighter,” says their son, Hitoshi Kimura, a commercial caterer who fled the March 11 tsunami by climbing a mountain, remaining there all night. “Everybody here has lost somebody,” Hitoshi says, using a sharp gesture of the hand to indicate an auditorium spread wide with unrolled futons and sleeping bodies. “We found our mother.”
By Claire Ward - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 0 Comments
Nick Kohler describes his visit
Shot and edited by Tom Henheffer
Produced by Claire Ward
Photo credit: Q. Sakamaki
By Erica Alini - Monday, March 28, 2011 at 5:44 PM - 0 Comments
A U.S.-led team of researchers, including three Canadians, says it has located the remains of fabled Atlantis
As killer waves wiped away entire towns on the coast of Japan, another city said to have been obliterated by a tsunami thousands of years ago may have surfaced for the first time on archaeological maps. A U.S.-led team of researchers, including three Canadians, says it has located the remains of fabled Atlantis, buried in marshlands in southern Spain. “This is the power of tsunamis—it can wipe out 60 miles [almost 100 km] inland, and that’s pretty much what we’re talking about,” said Richard Freund, a professor at the University of Hartford who led the effort to pinpoint the true location of the legendary city. His team used a combination of satellite imaging, digital mapping, underwater technology, and deep-ground radar to locate the site. Freund claims that the existence of ancient “memorial cities” in central Spain, supposedly built in Atlantis’s image by survivors of the tsunami, offers compelling evidence that what he has found is, in fact, the famous city-state of antiquity.
The only known mention of Atlantis comes from the Greek philosopher Plato, who described it as sitting on an island in front of the “Pillars of Hercules,” as the Straits of Gibraltar were known in the ancient world. That’s why archaeological searches have been focusing on the Mediterranean and Atlantic as the most likely sites.
By Kate Lunau - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:09 PM - 12 Comments
As communities line up for a shot at storing Canada’s nuclear waste, the industry’s opponents point to the Fukushima Daiichi plant
Bruce Fidler is the mayor of Creighton, Sask., a town of about 1,500 people on the border with Manitoba. “It’s pretty much a one industry community,” he says. “Mining is the largest employer we’ve got.” If Fidler gets his way, that could one day change: this town could become a nuclear waste dump. Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 3:27 PM - 1 Comment
Near-meltdown in Japan re-awakens doubts in U.S. policymakers
Japan’s nuclear crisis came just as the Obama administration was gearing up to jump-start a nuclear renaissance in America. The U.S. has not broken ground on a new nuclear power plant in the thirty years following the partial core meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island reactor in 1979. Obama’s plan to change all that in the name of climate change is now looking very uncertain.
Nuclear energy has been a key part of Obama’s strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. by 80% by 2035. Not only are nuclear plants a stable source of electricity without a carbon footprint, nuclear is also one area of energy policy where the president sees eye-to-eye with Republicans in Congress. In February, Obama announced a federal loan guarantee worth $8 billion for the construction of two new nuclear plants in Georgia. And in his 2012 budget request to Congress last month, Obama asked for a whopping $36 billion to expand federal government loan guarantees to help encourage the construction of other new nuclear plants. “We’re going to have to build a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in America,” he said last month.
Obama held to this line after the disaster in Japan, declaring on March 17, that nuclear power is “an important part of our own energy future, along with renewable sources like wind and solar, natural gas and clean coal.” Obama emphasized that American nuclear power plants have undergone “exhaustive study” and had been declared “safe for any number of extreme contingencies.” Nonetheless, he asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to do a comprehensive review of the safety of our domestic nuclear plants in light of the natural disaster that unfolded in Japan.
But across the country, the Japanese crisis reawakened old fears. Continue…
By Nicholas Köhler and Nancy Macdonald with Jason Kirby - Friday, March 25, 2011 at 6:01 AM - 8 Comments
‘It might be subtle, but there’s a deep concern the country as a whole has lost its vigour’
It’s the Sunday nine days after a 9-magnitude earthquake that triggered a once-in-a-millennium tsunami: 240 km north of here a nuclear power plant is still spewing smoke, 22,000 people are either dead or missing on the northeast coast, and Ace’s, one of the 280 tiny Lilliputian bars that constitute Tokyo’s Golden Gai district, is packed to capacity with eight people.
Crisscrossed by spidery, shoulder-width alleys, Golden Gai was for years a seamy red-light district, then an artists’ and literary hangout. A ramshackle collection of two-storey wooden shacks tossed like dice into the Kabukicho drinking district east of Shinjuku Station, it is today a powerful reminder of Japan’s supersonic rise as an economic power in the latter half of the 20th century, post-Hiroshima, post-Nagasaki. Surrounded on all sides by the modern glitz of neon Tokyo, it has been preserved as a curio of post-Second World War construction—of the days when Japan had nothing but an appetite for more.
Only Golden Gai’s rickety second-storey bars felt the effects of the massive temblor on March 11, as hundreds of liquor bottles fell from shelves and shattered. The laconic Japanese here make the quake seem like it’s already as old as the neighourhood itself. One young woman at the bar, an office worker, describes spending that night sleeping communally in a school gymnasium after the train lines shuddered to a halt; she shrugs her shoulders like it’s a not especially unpleasant childhood memory and continues sipping her beer.
By Nancy Macdonald with Nicholas Köhler. - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:35 PM - 2 Comments
Devastation, loss, and the aftermath: a shocking catastrophe and a heroic struggle
At exactly 15 minutes to three in the afternoon, on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japanese time, in the moments just preceding the 9-magnitude earthquake that in the space of three minutes would wreak more havoc on Japan than that country has experienced since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Natsuko Komura was riding a horse along the Paciﬁc coast in the northeastern city of Sendai. Rie Wakabayashi, 36, sat in a bus in Tokyo bound for a business meeting in the high-end Roppongi Hills complex. Chris Nixon, a 35-year-old American employed in the ﬁnancial services sector, was working from his home in Chiba prefecture, next to Tokyo, his new wife, Aya, nearby.
In those same moments, 125 km off Japan’s east coast and 10 km beneath the ocean surface, the Paciﬁc plate abruptly dove under its tectonic neighbour—the North American plate atop which northern Japan sits. That geological event, the consequence of eons’ worth of pent up energy, tore a gap into the Earth’s crust 400 km long and 160 km wide and pushed Honshu, Japan’s long main island, almost three metres. So gargantuan was the shift, scientists later calculated, that it rejigged the position of Earth’s axis by 16 cm and sped the planet’s rotation up by 1.6 microseconds, imperceptibly shortening our days. It was the largest quake in Japan’s history and tied for fourth largest in the world since 1900.
Just as Wakabayashi felt the ground move, then begin to shudder violently for more than two minutes, her transit bus had rolled under a Tokyo overpass; so intense was the quake that she feared it would collapse and crush her. Around 370 km north of her, in Sendai, Komura jumped off her horse, ran to her car and sped away from the coast. “The trafﬁc lights had stopped working and there was massive congestion—rows and rows of cars,” she later told the BBC. In Chiba, Nixon and Aya stepped outside their home and held onto an outer wall.
By Jason Kirby and Nancy Macdonald With Julia Belluz - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 1:37 PM - 0 Comments
How a cascading chain of events and complacent officials exposed Japan to a man-made crisis
Like most office workers in Japan, when the massive earthquake hit Friday afternoon, Dan Ayotte ducked under his desk as light fixtures and filing cabinets smashed to the floor around him. “It sounded like a train, it just kept getting more intense,” says the Peterborough, Ont., native. “I thought I was never going to see my family again.”
But Ayotte wasn’t just another terrified cubicle dweller in a swaying Tokyo skyscraper. As a mechanical technician with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Canada, Ayotte had spent the past three months working on one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It was a position that put him front and centre for the full devastation the quake was about to unleash. (General Electric designed the plant’s reactors and is a partner with Hitachi in the nuclear industry.)
When the violent shakes finally ended after five long minutes, Ayotte and a co-worker drove down to the edge of the sea. Along the way, they passed gaping cracks in the road so wide they’d swallowed trucks. All around, landslides snapped trees like matchsticks. Then Ayotte saw it, stretching across the horizon in the distance—a wall of water nine metres high, roaring straight toward the plant and its six reactors. The pair spun their car around and raced to a lookout point on a cliff high above the facility. What Ayotte witnessed next left him stunned. The ﬁrst wave hit nearby cliffs with such force that dirt and debris exploded into the air “like it was hit with an artillery shell.” A fishery plant down by the water’s edge was swept away in seconds. And then the waves began to pound the plant and its reactors. “The nuclear plant took the full brunt of that first wave,” he says. “The water rolled right over the southern part of the station.”
By Terry Watada - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM - 16 Comments
In the wake of disaster, playwright Terry Watada remembers his time in Japan
It was startling to wake up to CBC Radio spewing the news. I quickly submerged within the depths of cotton sheets, blankets, pillows and comforter as the details filtered through the haze of my half-sleep. 8.9-magnitude earthquake. 130 km away. Sendai affected. Tsunami warning.
The facts did trigger a dream: the water choking my seven-year-old self as I fell into the river flowing by my mother’s house in Fukui prefecture on Japan’s west coast before the images folded into the modern canals of Otaru, an artists’ village up in the northern island of Hokkaido, with a guitarist playing Fire and Rain. Everything came to a crashing stop and I found myself standing in the Peace Plaza in Hiroshima.
When I was fully awake, I turned on CBC Newsworld and CNN to see the black tsunami sweeping across the landscape like some evil Hayao Miyazaki monster laughing at seawalls, tossing vehicles aside like toys, and stripping buildings, boats and livelihoods to the bare bone. I kept flipping from one channel to the other. The horror was so intense, I felt the water gushing into my living room, grasping at family portraits, swelling saturated books, sliding across the floor in its unrelenting thirst for destruction.
My mind then swirled around to think about those I know in Japan. I have not been in touch with my relatives in Fukui since 1959, when my parents took me. In my mother’s childhood house, my aunts told me the story of their youngest sister, who fell off a low-lying bridge to a death by drowning in the river below. I, of course, wandered to the same bridge and slipped off, falling into the swift-running river leading to the Sea of Japan. If not for the quick actions of my adult cousin, I wouldn’t be alive today. I was severely punished, though I felt my mother’s warm arms around me and her body shaking in fear. Not unlike those on television.
My son was in Uryu, a farming village in the middle of Hokkaido, back in 2006, for a student exchange. At the Chitose airport, my wife and I met the host family, the Kanayamas, and apologized in anticipation of our son’s enormous appetite. The father in his gracious way said that was of no consequence since he has four sons and works a rice farm. We laughed. He then invited us for a visit. We said no since our son was already upset that not only were we in the same country but on the same island. “The other kids came without their parents!” he complained. Mr. Kanayama smiled knowingly and suggested we sneak into town. We laughed again.
Then I saw the explosions at the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Plumes of smoke rose in the air, vaguely reminiscent of the mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I felt the chill of the past settle in my stomach. My parents took me to the Hiroshima museum during that 1959 trip. I absorbed the photographs of the victims, their charred bodies with melted skin hanging off useless arms and legs. I was too horrified to cry. I was told of my mother’s cousin, my father’s relatives. Did they suffer long with radiation poisoning or did they disintegrate into shadows on concrete like so many others? My wife’s family was saved by a mountain on the outskirts of Hiroshima, except for Aunt Chiemi, who worked in the hospital near ground zero. Remarkably, she survived the initial blast. She dragged herself for miles and hours through devastated, unrecognizable streets until she arrived home and found her two babies alive and well. She then collapsed and died. Could it happen all over again?
By the end of the weekend, with the endless loop of footage of the tsunami’s assault and aftermath burned into my brain, I suddenly envisioned a desolate land with only a hollow feeling left inside me. Will I never again taste the oyako donburi with salmon eggs, crab meat and rice of Sapporo? Will I never get to roam the back alleys of Tokyo’s Shinjuku district with its yakuza bars and disaffected youth squatting on the streets? Will I never tear up in the Hiroshima Peace Museum where my wife’s and my relatives are memorialized?
Irrational thoughts, an overreaction, but the effects of this earthquake and tsunami are more far-reaching than can be anticipated. The black waters, blotting, soiling and ruining everything they touched, jolted the sensibilities; in the aftershock, I realized all those I’ve known and all that I’ve seen in Japan will never be the same.
Terry Watada, 59, is a Toronto playwright, poet and novelist currently finishing a novel about Japanese-Canadian resistance to internment
during the Second World War.
By the editors - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 1 Comment
There are natural disasters. And there are man-made disasters. Never have the two been conjoined as in Japan right now.
Last week vast swaths of the country were devastated by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Now the country faces a nuclear crisis of equal ferocity. A cascading series of failures and explosions at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima following the earthquake and tidal wave has allowed radioactive clouds to drift up from the broken reactors and threaten densely populated areas to the south, including Tokyo. The situation may worsen in the coming days and it is possible the toll from this man-made disaster will eventually exceed that from the natural calamity.
The entire world is in shock at this rapid turn of events.
Nuclear accidents activate a deep-seated sense of panic and helplessness within the public, not unlike the fear of terrorist attacks. And whether rational or not, for the first time in a generation we must all face this fear.
By Jason Kirby - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 4:07 PM - 13 Comments
Answers to frequently asked questions about the situation in Japan [UPDATED]
1. Have Japan’s Fukushima reactors melted down?
In short, no, though it is believed several reactors have suffered partial meltdowns. There’s a vast difference between those two scenarios.
A partial meltdown occurs when the fuel rods that contain the uranium are damaged or partially break down. When nuclear fission occurs, it produces extreme energy and heat. For that reason the rods are kept submerged in water. When everything is working correctly, the rods heat the water, which produces steam that then powers turbines to create electricity. But in three of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, water levels have fallen, exposing the fuel rods. If the heat rises to around 1,200 degrees Celsius, the material the rods are made of—zirconium—begins to break down, and some radiation is released. At several points during Japan’s nuclear crisis the rods have been fully exposed, despite the efforts by operators to pump in cold seawater. Given the high radiation levels around the reactors, it’s believed a partial meltdown has most certainly occurred, though it’s not known how badly damaged the rods are at this point. (Also note, as the zirconium degrades it releases hydrogen. It was the hydrogen that ignited and caused at least three explosions at the plant—and not, importantly, a full blown nuclear explosion.)
A full meltdown is far, far worse. For that to happen the rods would have to be exposed for several hours. The zirconium would then melt away and the uranium fuel pellets inside the rods would fall to the floor of the reactor. As the temperature rose higher, they’d then form a molten mass that could melt through the heavy steel and concrete containers surrounding the reactor. Once loose, they would unleash massive amounts of radiation into the environment.
2. What are spent fuel pools, and why is everyone suddenly worried about them?
The spent fuel pools are where fuel rods are stored after they’re removed from the reactors. As with the fuel rods in the reactor, the spent fuel needs to stay submerged in cold water or it will heat up. What’s happened is that, with nearby fires and the heat given off by the spent fuel rods, the water temperature has been rising. If the water boils off, and the rods are exposed, they could meltdown. Unlike the fuel rods in the reactors though, the spent fuel rods don’t have steel and concrete enclosures. If the heat damages the rod casings, they could catch fire and spew radiation into the atmosphere. Experts are warning that the spent fuel pools may pose the biggest radiation threat at Fukushima.
3. What are the Japanese doing to deal with the crisis?
Plant operators have tried several things to cool down the reactors. The first step was to pump fresh water into the reactors, since the cooling system was no longer functioning. Unfortunately there were valve malfunctions, so workers have since been pumping seawater and boric acid into the reactors. The boric acid helps slow nuclear fission.
Unfortunately high radiation levels have made it dangerous for workers to fight several fires that have broken out at the plant. The Japanese government considered using helicopters to fly above the fires to disperse water and boric acid over the plant, but that mission was aborted due to safety concerns. Ground crews now plan to use water canons to spray water onto the fires and reactors.
4. How long could this go on?
Days or even weeks. The good news is the reactors have been shut down. Immediately after the earthquake hit, control rods were automatically inserted into the reactor, which had the effect of disabling the fission process. But unlike a light bulb that gets switched off right away, the reactor core remains extremely hot. At the same time byproducts of the fission process continue to decay, giving off heat. If the normal cooling process had continued to function, within 24 hours the temperature of the core would have cooled dramatically and been well on the way to achieving the necessary “cold shutdown.” But the earthquake knocked out power to the cooling system, while the tsunami right afterwards destroyed the backup diesel generators. Now some experts believe it could take weeks for operators to fully gain control of the reactors.
5. Weren’t the reactors built to withstand major earthquakes? How did this happen?
Japan’s nuclear plants are built to withstand earthquakes of 7.5 magnitude, but the quake that hit last Friday ultimately measured 9.0. Given the quake was far stronger than what the plant was built for, it’s remarkable it held up as well as it did. But the designers had not accounted for a tsunami measuring nine meters high to hit the plant after a quake. As well prepared as Japan was for either a massive quake or massive tsunami, the nuclear plants were not designed to withstand both.
6. How bad is the radiation?
At this point the real danger is limited to the immediate vicinity of the reactors. Radiation levels at the plant hit between 600 and 1000 millisieverts (mSv) at different times before falling. Millisieverts measure the rate at which radiation is absorbed by the body. Anything over 100 mSv in a year can lead to elevated cancer risks, and being hit with 5,000 mSv over just a few hours is fatal.
But again, those readings relate to the area right by the reactors. The further away you are, the exposure levels begin to drop fast. The people most at risk at this point are the 50 workers who have stayed behind to try get the reactors back under control. Meanwhile in Tokyo radiation levels at their highest never reached above 1 microsievert per hour (1 mSv is 1,000 microsieverts), far less exposure than a person receives with a full body CT Scan or x-ray.
7. Are people in North America, particularly along the west coast, at risk?
No. Even if there were a massive burst of radiation from the plant, health experts say it would take roughly a week to cross the Pacific Ocean and by then the radioactive particles would be dispersed in the atmosphere. Despite that, pharmacies in B.C. have been cleaned out of potassium iodide tablets as people have begun stockpiling them. (Iodide pills blocks the body from absorbing radioactive iodine.) As such, Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C. provincial health officer, has recommended that “pharmacies do not dispense or stockpile potassium iodide tablets.”
By Jesse Brown - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 13 Comments
As silver-linings go, it may not be much; but it is remarkable to learn that Japan’s Internet barely skipped a beat after last week’s devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami and aftershocks.
Physical damage did occur to network infrastructure, but within hours the self-correcting architecture of Japan’s Internet routed around it and information flowed freely. Keep in mind that this damage coincided with a massive surge in Internet use, as users around the world suddenly began demanding live video and other data from Japan.
The catastrophe provides a valuable real-world example of how important it is for nations to invest in strong, well-planned digital networks with multiple redundancies. Japan’s Internet has long been the envy of the world.
But so what? Given the human cost, the ongoing suffering, and the very real threat of nuclear disaster, who cares about a resilient Internet? Well, consider this:
- After the quake, as roads closed and mobile phone networks jammed up, the Internet kept the nation connected. It’s how relatives checked in on each other, and it’s helping now with relief efforts.
- It’s also helping to assess the damage in innovative ways, like this crowd-sourced radiation tracking project. It will take some time for authorities to know just how real the threat of radiation poisoning is in every area of Japan, so until then, citizens are taking the matter into their own hands. Folks with Geiger counters are uploading to this Google Map.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 11:06 AM - 1 Comment
Daiichi plant radiation levels spike as workers evacuate
In a rare TV appearance marking his first public comments since the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on Friday, Emperor Akihito expressed both worry and hope about the crisis facing his country. Saying he was “deeply worried,” Emperor Akihito urged an all-out rescue effort in the midst of a crisis that is “unprecedented in scale.” He spoke after nuclear technicians temporarily abandoned Fukushima’s Daiichi plant on Wednesday, where radiation levels spiked at 1,000 millisieverts, enough to cause temporary radiation sickness. The skeleton crew of about 50 workers were evacuated after ground radiation levels rose and helicopters dumped water on the facility. Yuhei Sato, the governor of Fukushima prefecture, criticized the handling of the nuclear crisis, telling Japan’s NHK TV that the “anxiety and anger being felt by people in Fukushima have reached a boiling point.” 140,000 people living within the 30-km exclusion zone around the nuclear plant have been told not to leave their homes.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 5:27 PM - 2 Comments
Meanwhile, a second quake hits near Tokyo
A magnitude-6.1 earthquake shook an already beleaguered Japan on Tuesday, just as radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant fell from their harmful levels following a series of explosions and a fire. There were no immediate casualties reported after the quake. The epicenter of the latest quake was located in Shizuoka prefecture, approximately 180km southwest of Tokyo, and shook many of the capital’s high-rise buildings. Shizuoka’s Chubu Electric Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant reported no immediate problems and is operating normally.
At the Daiichi plant in Fukushima, ocean winds are blowing radiation away from the plant and over the Pacific. But the situation remains tense after several explosions released radioactive material into the area. Following the explosions, radiation doses of 400 millisierverts per hour were recorded (1,000 millisierverts causes temporary radiation sickness). Later, the reading dropped to 0.6 millisierverts per hour. The International Atomic Energy Agency has criticized the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Co for a lack of transparency and communication as technicians struggle to prevent a meltdown. “The communication needs to be strengthened,” said the IAEA’s Yukiya Amano. “I have asked the Japanese counterparts to further strengthen and facilitate their communication.”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 4:13 PM - 55 Comments
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 12:45 PM - 0 Comments
TSX down sharply in wake of tsunami
The devastation of the tsunami and the threat of a nuclear crisis in Japan have hit financial markets hard, with the Canadian dollar down more than one cent and the TSX losing more than 300 points in the opening five minutes of trading on Tuesday. The Nikkei stock index plunged by 11 per cent, or 1,000 points, while the NYSE invoked Rule 48, which allows the exchange to suspend required price dissemination and official floor approval before opening. The U.S. dollar is benefiting as investors seek treasuries to protect against a “demand destructive event.”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, March 15, 2011 at 11:35 AM - 23 Comments
Radiation levels increase as technicians struggle to prevent meltdown
Radiation at the Daiichi nuclear plant in Fukushima has reached harmful levels, the Japanese government says, after a third blast damaged the containment system of the second reactor. A fire that broke out at the plant’s fourth reactor also caused more radioactive leaks. Cooling seawater has been pumped into the plants first and third reactor, stabilizing them for the time being. Radiation levels were higher than normal in Tokyo, which lies about 250km away from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, although officials say there are no immediate health dangers for residents in the capital. The 140,000 residents living within the 30km exclusion zone who have not already been evacuated are advised not to leave their homes. The latest death toll from the earthquake and tsunami sits at 2,400 but is estimated that at least 10,000 people have been killed, and 500,000 people are homeless.
By Erica Alini - Monday, March 14, 2011 at 6:56 PM - 6 Comments
As Japan grapples with what Prime Minister Naoto Kan described as the country’s biggest crisis since WWII, analysts are racing to predict what the impact of the earthquake will be. There’s much doom and gloom about how much the reconstruction effort will cost, what footing the bill will do to Japan’s public debt, how long it will take for production in key industries such as electronics and the auto sector to go back to full gear, and the threat of inflation a result of the vast destruction of Japan’s farmland which will mean a hike in food prices.
However, there are reasons for moderate optimism. The massive rebuilding that will follow the quake is bound to act as a powerful stimulus on the economy, and that could cushion a near-term GDP slowdown. The earthquake will also probably generate a rally-‘round-the-flag sentiment, and shake off the political stalemate that has paralyzed Japanese politics in recent years.
Also, the earthquake didn’t hit Japan in the worst possible spot. The epicenter was closest to the Miyagi district, which accounts for 1.7 per cent of Japan’s GDP. By contrast, the 6.9-magnitude quake that roiled Japan in 1995 hit an industrialized urban area that accounted for as much as 4 per cent of the country’s economy, according to Roubini Global Economics, an economic and market strategy research firm.
Even when looking at the financial markets, where Tokyo stocks suffered their biggest fall in two years on Monday, there’s a way to see the glass as half-full. The earthquake is a huge blow for insurers, but it is not expected to translate into capital flights and runs on the yen, according to Roubini.
On the other hand, the impact of the quake has been unexpectedly heavy for the luxury industry. Investors focused their concerns on Tiffany and Coach, which have a massive retail presence in Japan and whose stock tanked in the S&P 500 today. Even this pessimism, though, might be unwarranted, according to analyst Brian Sozzi from Wall Street Strategies, a stock market research company. The companies’ exposure to the Japanese earthquake, he wrote in an email to clients, will depend more on whether their stores are clustered near disaster areas than their sales volumes in Japan.
If you’re wondering what the earthquake will do to the nuclear industry, don’t miss Jason Kirby’s in-depth analysis coming out in our print edition of Maclean’s on Thursday, March 17.
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM - 17 Comments
Canada remains on standby as international aid efforts are coordinated
The Canadian government says it is ready to offer “any and all” possible aid to Japan after Friday’s devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. On Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon’s office released a statement saying it was prepared to offer Canadian Forces personnel, a 17-member victim identification team, as well as chemical, biological and nuclear expertise and equipment. “As Prime Minister Stephen Harper stated,” said Cannon, “Canada stands ready to provide any and all possible assistance to the people of Japan.” As Canada remains on standby to provide assistance, there is no word on whether the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) will be dispatched.
By macleans.ca - Monday, March 14, 2011 at 12:47 PM - 2 Comments
Grim discovery could more than double official death count
The Kyodo News reports that the official death toll of 1,597 is set to jump dramatically following Friday’s devastating earthquake in Japan after the discovery of approximately 1,000 bodies found coming ashore on hardest-hit Miyagi’s Ojika Peninsula. Another 1,000 have been spotted in the virtually obliterated town of Minamisanriku, where the prefectural government has been unable to contact about 10,000 people, or over half the local population. The situation is so grim, that the Miyagi prefectural government has decided to ask for help from other prefectures as work to cremate bodies is falling behind.